Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Unique Practitioners Part II: Russell Brotherston- G4

On Tuesday 25th February I interviewed Russell, one of the instructors at Krav Maga Midlands. He has some very eye opening revelations about the attitude of Management in mental health care towards self defence.

So, who are you?

I’m Russell Brotherston, I’m 34 years old and I’m a G4 level Krav Maga Midlands instructor and have been for the last two years. I also live in Stratford-upon-Avon.

What did you do before you became a Krav Maga instructor?

I did a few things. I worked for a charity for about 11 years. Mainly working around nursing homes doing recovery. It wasn’t elderly it was anyone who was 18 to 65. Specialising mainly in schizophrenia, bi-polar, manic depressive…that sort of thing. So there was a lot of unpredictable behaviour. Also did community support for the same charity in and around Coventry. That was going to visit adults but also keeping my eyes peeled for if I thought there was any child abuse going on. Levels of assessment involved there. I also did some work on the acute wards in hospitals.

What does that involve?

The acute wards are mainly centred around people who are going on or coming off medication so their behaviour is very unpredictable. Sometimes people who have mental health problems but they haven’t been assessed yet. So for example people who’ve been arrested who are dangerous and they don’t know where to put them so they put them on an acute ward.

What attracted you to Krav Maga as a practitioner in the first place?

Well, I’d done lots of martial arts before. I’d done Judo, Muay-Thai, Kickboxing and European Kickboxing. I also do some normal boxing as well. All of those seemed very rule orientated. There wasn’t really any room for changing. The thing I liked about Krav was that it was the first thing I’d seen where you could spar with like 3 or 4 guys at the same time. You don’t do that in any other fighting sport. The most I’ve heard is in Jiu Jitsu going against two people. I also liked the fact that there was no specific rules so there’s room to develop your own style. Not everyone has the same strengths and weaknesses. I’d see videos on the internet and there’d be people doing different defences for the exact same problem. I was thinking “are these different schools?” but then you’d see them on the exact same promotional video for the exact same club. So they were allowing them flexibility. And of course, the one that everyone likes. You get to do groin strikes.

Did you feel you needed to learn Krav for your job?

Yeah, because when I was working in the mental health sector they don’t want you to do any proper self defence which is quite strange.

Did they give you any self defence training?

We did breakaway training which is done learning very dated techniques. The instructor told me he’d been teaching the exact same thing for 30 years. He hadn’t got any qualifications in self defence. He had one for doing Jiu Jitsu. But he didn’t talk that much about “what if there’s a problem?” For example he was talking about someone choking you from the front and he showed us a solution that WOULD work…provided the attacker attacked you in a very specific way. He didn’t make that clear or anything so when he got me to choke him and I held him in a way that wasn’t good for the technique he was like, “No, no. Put your arms like this!”

But I didn’t get any breakaway training until about 6 years into the job when me and another member of staff were assaulted by patients on the same day, but at different centres. That’s what prompted it. Came out of nowhere. That’s what happens in the mental health world. I had to react in a calm way which the job hadn’t prepared me for. They’d prepared me more in the hospital but only marginally.

Do you feel the training they gave you was for insurance and health and safety compliance rather than keeping you safe?

Yeah, completely. I’d been there 11 years and I did one breakaway training course for one day, that with the lunch break probably lasted about 6 hours, half of which was the instructor talking. A Q&A session about how people get stressed and you can calm them down by talking. We probably did about two and a half hours of physical work and I never broke a sweat the whole time. It was rubbish to be honest.

I saw the advert for Krav Maga Midlands when I had to take someone to the police station, the flyer was up in the reception. That was about 2 years before I became an instructor. I went to loads of lessons, asked Bartosz for lots of tips and had my punchbag in my garage where I practiced for about 6 days a week for at least an hour, hour and a half, just going through strikes.

Did your hospital or the other organisations tell you not to use self defence tactics but only to disengage from a violent situation?

Yeah, that’s basically what you’re meant to do. That’s what breakaway training is. It only works for if someone goes to grab you. It’s not for if someone tries to punch you or kick you or stab you. There was one incident I heard of where a patient grabbed a fire extinguisher and chased someone down the corridor. The real element that happens is that people at work do what they need to do to get out of a situation. I know a woman attacked by 5 or 6 patients at the same time in the canteen. All she could do was hide under the table. Legally we’re not meant to go in and do anything, but another guy ran in, grabbed her arms and dragged her out. He was legally meant to leave her to be beaten up, that’s what they say you should do. Which I find disgusting. That’s one of the reasons I got out of it as I thought there was no way I was getting sued for defending myself.

When the guy punched me they asked me if I wanted to press charges. Friends were saying I should as he knew it was wrong. But from the standpoint of the company it’s just a hazard of the job

On a more cheerful note. You teach kids as young as 6 Krav Maga?

The stuff I teach the kids in class is different. Kids don’t have that fear element. You know with forward rolls you build up to it in height. Kids will ask me to put the pad for them to jump over at about chest height. They take to it because the only similar thing is something like Tae Kwon Do where you stand in a formal line, it’s very uniformed and you’re put in with the adults. Kids don’t like to learn like that. They like to run around and play so you put it in the format of a game. For them it’s playing, building their co-ordination and motor skills. Their parents watching from the side can see the self defence connotations.

It’s interesting with the hospitals and charities not wanting you go hands on, the irony is that children, with all those rules around contact and DBS clearance to work with them and we’re teaching the next generation a much more common sense approach including kicking to the groin.

Exactly. I talk to the parents first so they know  that it’s Krav, it’s a physical thing. I’m going to be playing rough and tumble games with their kids picking their kids up, spinning them round. I’m going to be wrestling like 3 or 4 at once, they’re going to be trying to pin me down (laughs). It’s just part of the thing. You’ve got to teach them that if they’re not running away or making a lot of noise. A bunch of 6 or 7 kids can quite happily take out an adult if they’re punching and kicking. That’s what they do to me. They don’t get the chance to do that anywhere else. The stuff they learn with me is specifically for class or if something serious happens. The hard thing is convincing them not to try the tactics on other kids.

In the kids’ classes they learn two responses to everything. Response against a child and another to an adult. If a kid grabs them in a bear hug then they can’t really start kicking them in the groin or elbowing them in the head. They do Rapping On The Barn Door which is rapping the knuckles so they person lets go which won’t work on an adult.

Which do you prefer teaching? Adults or children?

(Laughs) It’s a totally different thing. Well I can teach adults for a lot longer. Children’s classes are tiring. It’s 6 of 1 and half a dozen of the other. Kids when they’re in great mood can be so much fun, they really can engage. At the same time they can get really wound up and get really hyper and get quite disobedient. So it’s a question of keeping their attention so you stop and start, stop and start. Ideally I’d like a child’s energy in an adult. Kids can go on for games for ages. Adult games like 1 or 2 minutes, with kids it’s about 5. They run and run until you tell them to stop.

Any advice to anyone wanting to become a Krav Maga instructor?

Do like I did. Train and train and train. Anything like sports, the basic things you know just keep doing them, fast and slow again and again. A good idea is to get a camera and film yourself so you can see what you’re doing. Another is to get together with students you know, preferably of a higher level so you’re always training with people with more knowledge than you. Like when I did basketball I played with better people. Eventually I could compete with them but for a long time they thrashed me (laughs).

What would be your motto for life?

Do not be too timid or squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment . The more experiments you make, the better.


  1. Just wanted to add some notes to the blog if that’s okay?

    I think its important to remember than when working with and supporting people with severe enduring or acute mental health issues, a knowledge of the ‘condition’ and illness is imperative. It takes a lot of training and experience to develop the skills required to be affective in your role, and to remain client focussed in this.

    Along with the natural ability to support others through crisis, excellent communication skills, being empathic and nurturing, becoming an advocate to protect the vulnerable and generally ability to ‘help’ others reach their goals.

    Russ clearly has all of these. He demonstrates it in his teaching of Krav Maga and is evidently a ‘good bloke’.

    To work for 11 years in this ‘industry’ and encounter violence just the once demonstrates how good he must be at the above in my opinion.

    But let’s not forget, paranoid schizophrenia, hyper mania and endogenous depression can cause people to behave in unpredictable ways, often with unclear thoughts or even dangerously influenced thoughts (auditory hallucination, delusions, severe low mood) this in itself may create violence to self or others. An awareness of this, proper planning, sufficient trained nursing staff (not just RMN, I mean all staff) and proper funding to fantastic third sector groups and charities.

    Sadly extreme violence and assault often occur when people are seriously unwell (or seriously bad), I would totally agree that the breakaway techniques shown to health care staff are inadequate, however I can see how the “1 assault in 11 years of work” attitude would make for a 1 day per annum of very basic training mentality to tick the boxes of a reactive, not a proactive health care provider.

    As for the place of safety, this is now a lounge suite in Warwickshire. As a police officer previously Lance, I’m sure you are familiar with sections of the Mental Health Act 1983 where if a police officer witnesses or has concerns for a person in public, they can be ‘arrested’ and moved to a place of safety for their safety or the safety of others. Now I would much rather this meant taking my relative to a hospital than a custody cell which used to occur (check deaths in custody of mentally ill people). The addition of a suite, within a mental health hospital seems like a much better option, allowing for assessment of MH needs to take place in an allotted time frame.

    I would love to see KMM in the big healthcare providers, teaching breakaway and self-defence, I’ve even raised it with the instructors, that they should design a package and scout for contracts. But these are big groups of people, thousands per year need training locally, and in the day of the court/claim, the package provided needs to stand up to legal testing….which as Russel points out, does the current training do this if it’s not possible to vary or stray your ‘attack’ in learning?

    I have heard of incidents where people use the furniture as weapons in hospital, we must have fire extinguishers located around for obvious reasons. But they can be stored safely and secured, is this a cost cutting exercise again? React when a member of staff is injured rather than prevent this happening? Seriously unwell people and seriously ‘bad’ people (see borderline personality disorder and psychopath here if you like) have the potential to be violent.

    The average late night in a town centre on a weekend, violence is MUCH more prevalent, this is where we need our fight or flight, our self-defence, our training and skills. I admire the decision to not press charges for the attack Russel, this was a poorly person, reacting whilst unwell I assume? On the streets…its different isn’t it?

  2. Agree with nearly all of your comment but I feel you have missed the point slightly. The care organisations and their management actively discourage self defence training as they are afraid of bad reputations and/ or liitgation. They would rather leave the staff vulnerable than train them how to defend themselves. In the US, if you have mental issues but point a gun at cops, they will kill you. Not necessarily your "fault" but neither is it the cops' fault. Over here we regard the safety of carers as less important than being perceived at "nice".

    I was a cop and our training was poxy too. A lot of breakaway shite, but also how to restrain only using armlocks. Whole thing was piss poor. For such a compassionate, level headed guy, Russell is the living emodiment of "be nice, until it's time to not be nice."

  3. errm that's exactly the point I made Lance.....

    pointing a gun at an armed person shows intent to use lethal force and will be answered with lethal force....we are not in a country where this is the norm we were
    talking of breakaway skills, not armed responses

    can you elaborate on this: "Over here we regard the safety of carers as less important than being perceived at "nice"."


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